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Guiding Growth for a Passion Brand

We’ve seen it so often it’s become a cliché: The veteran marketer, disillusioned by the lack of opportunity for career growth in a big CPG company, jumps to an emerging food or wellness brand. She’s inspired by the founder’s passion and excited to bring her expertise to the table.

And then a few weeks into the job, she realizes that things aren’t … well … as she expected they’d be.

The founder/owner’s drive, passion, and ability to move quickly and on the cheap works great until about $5mm, and then it gets in the way. The brand is ripe for growth, yet the team is hesitant to let go of what brought them this far. And while there’s tons of opportunity for new revenue, the owner doesn’t want to be seen as chasing big bucks.

Sound familiar?

If you’ve come from a big marketing engine to help a fledgling brand grow, you’ll likely find that most of what you know isn’t going to work for your new boss. And until he recognizes that you truly get his vision and share his passion, he’ll resist — or even fear — your expertise.

Over years of working with CMOs in the exact spot you’re in, we’ve devised a number of strategies that can help you get your job done in a way that makes a meaningful difference for your brand. Let us show you the way:

Recognize that your No. 1 job isn’t marketing. It’s talking the founder/owner off the ledge. Convincing her that business success does not come at the expense of personal reputation or brand history.

Understand that it’s not business, it’s personal. The brand’s biggest hurdle is the founder’s emotional relationship with it. He looks back with nostalgia to the good old days. Fear lies at the core of the problem: The founder fears that the origin story will be overwritten, and that success will make him look like a sellout.

The founder’s deep attachments affect everything from the color used on a logo to the proper use of the office coffee maker. These preferences may appear irrational, but they’re seated in the owner’s blood, sweat, and tears.

Be an archaeologist. Your first task is to understand the brand’s history so that when you make a recommendation it’s steeped in that history. Dig deep, find every bone in the dirt and bring it to the surface, ask tons of questions. This process of excavation should take three to four months.

And a psychologist. Founders are passionate, entrepreneurial, driven people who are great at invention. But when it comes to maturing a brand or facing a growth challenge, they often make decisions based on personal biases. As the new CMO, you’ll find yourself in the role of therapist as your boss transitions the brand into something different. She’ll be learning to trust others, let go of the past, and with your guidance, develop a new ideal for the brand she started.

Listen reflectively. In every meeting with the owner, every casual conversation, repeat what he says — not to be a parrot but to clarify, learn, and check your assumptions.

Practice tough love. This where your best negotiating/politicking skills will come into play. Whether you do the work internally or hire an external firm, you’ll be in the middle of the relationship, as the founder who has hired you to grow or salvage the company will be intimately involved in each conversation and decision.

Take it slow. Resist the urge to solve the problem immediately. What might make you look like a superhero will feel threatening to the founder. If it’s that easy to right the ship, he’ll feel incompetent for not having done it himself.

If you find yourself in this position, know that you’re not alone: So many CMOs that have landed with passion-driven food and wellness brands have been here, too — and we’ve worked with a lot of them. You’re in for an up-and-down ride. And your biggest challenge may be ahead because you’ll soon start to lose some of the objectivity that made you such a great hire.

Need help? Need to vent? Give us a call.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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Prepare Your Lifestyle Brand for the Next Market Correction

Michael Meade once said, “A false sense of security is the only kind there is.”

If you’re in a market or industry that’s seeing a lot of growth, it’s easy to buy into the belief that when it comes to your brand’s longevity, the sky’s the limit. Strategy be damned; your brand is invincible.

The reality is that your brand’s long-term viability cannot be reliant on market or industry performance, world-class packaging, or even competitive pricing. There’s some security in those things, but it’s always temporary.

To survive the ebbs and flows of the global marketplace, your lifestyle brand has to be well positioned — even (and maybe especially) during periods of economic growth.

Price Isn’t Everything

When consumers are spending money left and right, brands don’t really have to compete on anything. Almost any brand can thrive in a booming economy. But as soon as the economy starts going downhill, the center of the store becomes too crowded. There are simply too many options and not enough customers to buy them.

There’s a dichotomy we’ve talked about before called the Walmart-Tiffany Effect, which is this idea that the most successful brands survive on either end of the value spectrum. Walmart brands are the ones that compete on price; Tiffany brands, on prestige.

The Walmart and Tiffany extremes become much more clearly delineated during an economic downturn. This is when the brands that live in the middle (which is most brands) are faced with the reality that they can no longer ride solely on the coattails of their market or their industry.

These undifferentiated brands are typically the first to go when an economic crisis hits.

Good Design Isn’t Everything

Too many lifestyle brands equate hip, well-designed packaging or even a slick website with brand legitimacy. And when the economy is thriving and people are buying your product, why would you not?

Unfortunately, good design can lead to a false sense of security during these periods of economic growth. When shelf appeal plays such a big role in your brand’s marketing strategy, it’s easy for design to trump actual strategy.

But brands that rely on design at the expense of strategy are rarely successful in the long run. Under the guise of, “Look what we can do for you!” they hide behind pretty packaging and empty promises of product features and benefits.

While these brands look beautiful, they don’t stand for anything.

Figure Out Your Brand Strategy Now, Before It’s Too Late

If your lifestyle brand wants a fighting chance at surviving a market correction, good design or competitive pricing is not the answer. The key to weathering (and even taking advantage of) an economic downturn is to start focusing on brand strategy now. Don’t let the market necessitate a change in how you market your product or who you’re marketing to.

Because brand strategy is an exercise that requires a considerable investment, a Hail Mary attempt to fix whatever is broken with your brand simply won’t work. By the time a solution is in place or the economy is on the upswing, it’s likely too late.

Know Where Your Brand is Going & How to Get There

We like to think about brand strategy like a flight plan. A flight plan will only work if:

  • Everyone who’s involved in getting that plane from point A to point B knows exactly what’s happening, when it’s happening, and who needs to be involved in the process at various points along the way. Even if the pilot is the one drafting the flight plan, dissemination is crucial.
  • The plan is constructed when the plane is safely on the ground. Trying to figure out where your plane is going once it’s already up in the air is like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted; the intention is there, but it’s too late to be effective.

Brand strategy is no different.

When it comes to strategic brand development, timing is everything. The right time to build your brand strategy is not when a crisis hits. The right time is always now, even if the market is trending in your favor.

What’s more, brand strategy isn’t just for your marketing team. It’s for your entire company. It’s cultural strategy, sales strategy, design strategy — it’s everything, all together.

Everyone from your C-Suite to your sales department to your internal operations team should know your brand strategy inside and out. Being on the same page about that strategy ensures you’re all heading in the same direction, in good times and in bad.

Need help corralling your team? Drop us a line:

Diana Fryc

For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

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Better-for-you Businesses: How to Rebrand the Right Way

Maybe your food, beverage, wellness or fitness business isn’t going as well as planned. Sales are on the decline, and you’ve been unable to adapt to changing consumer preferences. Or perhaps you’ve acquired a new brand and want to know how — or if — to integrate it with your existing product line.

These are just a few of the many (valid) reasons your company may be considering a rebrand.

The problem is that too many retail companies aren’t clear on what to expect from the rebranding process and how they should rebrand in light of that, and they end up going through the process far too frequently.

The decision to rebrand shouldn’t simply be a reaction to immediate market conditions or a new competitor, and it definitely shouldn’t be taken lightly. A rebrand has to get to the heart of what matters to your company internally and what will matter in the future to your key audiences — or it will inevitably fail.

If you’re rebranding the right way, it will change your entire company from the inside out.

Tackling the Obstacles to a Successful Rebrand

Not ready to take the rebranding step on your own? A brand strategy firm can guide you through the process.

They’ll be there to ask the right questions and steer your company in the right direction when things veer off track. Most importantly, a brand strategy firm will help your team tackle some of the biggest obstacles to a successful rebrand: misunderstanding, lack of enrollment, organizational psychology, and misplaced expectations.


When you hear the term ‘rebrand,’ what comes to mind? A new logo? Revamped packaging architecture? These elements can certainly be part of the equation, but they’re never the whole picture.

It’s easy to mistake branding for graphic identity, especially when you consider the origins of the term. There was a time when a ‘brand’ wasn’t this intangible thing that it is now; it was the scar you marked your cattle with so no one would steal from your herd. Even centuries later, it’s not surprising that this connotation still lingers.

But a new logo or an identity change does not a rebrand make. A rebrand requires positioning and strategy — it’s much closer to business strategy than it is to graphic design or marketing.

Getting this definition right is the first step in considering a rebrand, and it requires an awareness from everyone at your organization, from the top down.

Lack of Enrollment

There’s an old-school MBA perception that many CEOs share about whose world branding falls into. It’s easy for better-for-you brand owners/operators to chalk up branding as a “marketing thing,” passing off rebranding work to a CMO or marketing team without a second thought.

But if a rebrand is more than just a new logo — if it’s an integral part of business strategy — then the rebranding process cannot happen in a black box. There absolutely needs to be buy-in from leadership from the very beginning.

A brand strategy firm can provide the framework to make sure that happens.

We have something in our contract called the “Been Burned Clause,” which is our tongue-in-cheek way of addressing the fact that some of our clients have been hurt by working with an agency in the past who made promises but failed to deliver. We ensure this doesn’t happen in our partnership by mandating that our clients have key leadership in the room for brand strategy sessions from the outset. If even one member of the C-suite or upper management team can’t make that initial meeting, we’ll reschedule it. We’ll do this as many times as it takes because we know how important it is.

Organizational Psychology

Every consumer brand has internal assumptions about what they are and what they bring to the table. That’s a given. Without someone to challenge these biases, however, they can present immovable obstacles to the rebranding process.

One of the most powerful things we get to do as a brand strategy firm is help CPG and retail brands sacrifice their sacred cows on the altar of impartiality, bringing an objective, outside perspective to rebranding conversations. We’re there to point to the cold, hard facts and push leadership to reframe how they’ve perceived their company, culture, and products in light of data they may never have considered.

Case in point: We’ve worked with food and beverage brands that have assumed (and asserted) for years that their product just tastes better than everyone else’s. All it takes is us setting up a blind taste test for them to fundamentally re-evaluate the one thing they’ve staked their marketing claim on for so long. By facilitating exercises like these, we compel our clients to rethink their positioning in a way that will fundamentally alter their rebranding strategy.

Misplaced Expectations

Since we’ve already established that a rebrand is more than just a logo change, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the rebranding process takes time.

But if that misunderstanding is in place — if leadership, in particular, hasn’t bought into the realities of the investment required for a successful rebrand — then expectations of timing and ROI will inevitably be mislaid.

A good brand strategy firm will establish clear expectations for the rebranding process right away. And they’ll be there to take the heat when things don’t go according to plan so no one on your team has to.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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Expand Your Brand Globally Like Starbucks, Disney and Sur la Table

As a parent, it’s almost impossible not to appreciate the genius of Disney’s branding.

Not only has Disney developed design language that’s about as evocative as it gets (consider the reality that just seeing a pair of Mickey Mouse ears can transport a child and even some adults to a different world) — they’ve also done a remarkable job of universalizing their brand. There are Disney stores and theme parks all over the world, and parents from Japan to the UK have rolled their eyes and reluctantly given in to an umpteenth viewing of Frozen. Disney is one of the few, notable brands that all of us across the globe have in common.

Disney’s success is not due to the fact that their movies are fantastic (they are) or that their theme parks are the “Happiest Places on Earth” (they are, unless you’re a parent with cranky toddlers) but that they’ve figured out how to speak to a universal truth: We all need a little magic in our lives.

The thing that makes Disney “Disney” is not their characters or their theme parks but the magic they inspire.

What is Universal About Your Brand?

Before marketing your brand on a global level, you have to recognize the intrinsic aspect of your brand that can speak to people all over the world, regardless of how old they are, where they live, how much money they make, or what they do. This is the universal truth of your brand — it should drive your brand promise and serve as the foundation for both your local and global marketing strategy.

To figure out your brand’s universal truth, go back to the basics. Strip the graphical identity you’ve developed away and think about the primary reason someone (anyone, in fact) would be interested in your product.

To start, ask: What is it about your brand that speaks to a more basic, instinctual need? If you’re in the food and beverage industry, you can stand on the promise that your product meets a universal need to eat or drink. That’s simple enough, right? But truly setting your brand apart requires tapping into a deeper human longing for love, acceptance, security, adventure — whatever the case may be. This connection to a higher need is your brand’s bread and butter.

Starbucks and the Need for Belonging

Starbucks is one of the most widely recognized and globally successful brands of all time, and it’s because they’ve made their universal truth an integral part of their brand. No matter where you live or where you’re from, you understand that Starbucks is a brand for coffee drinkers across the spectrum. No matter how simple or sophisticated your tastes may be, Starbucks creates a coffee house culture for everyone.

Starbucks is a brand that translates everywhere, from small-town America all the way to the Great Wall of China, because it conveys a universal truth: We all want a warm drink and a place to gather together. But maybe more importantly, the brand speaks to a deeper longing — that we all want a place where we can do those things and feel like we belong, whether we’re ordering an Americano or a Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Starbucks lets you be whatever kind of coffee drinker or really, person, you need to be.

Sur La Table and the Creative Spirit

A few years ago, we worked with Sur La Table, a US-based kitchenware company. They had experienced success within their local market but were looking to expand — specifically to the United Arab Emirates. Like many companies delving into global branding for the first time, they had no idea where to start.

A lot of agencies faced with Sur La Table’s predicament would have recommended completely rebranding these new Middle Eastern stores to fit some misplaced perception of what a kitchen store in the UAE should look like. But they would have realized on the other side that these international stores looked and more importantly, felt, nothing like a Sur La Table store.

To reach this new international market, our advice to them was simply to redraft their logo in Islamic script.

We took a much more straightforward approach to their global marketing challenge not because it seemed like the easiest thing to do but because after getting to know their brand, we knew we didn’t need to reinvent the wheel when it came to their brand strategy.

Our advice stemmed from an understanding and recognition that the Sur La Table brand was already built on the fundamental and universal truth that people cook. Their brand also resonated with this much more interesting concept that the more you cook, the better at it you become — and the more creative you can be.

Sur La Table not only helps you become a more accomplished cook; it provides an outlet for self-expression and creativity. It’s a brand that speaks to a universal need for self-actualization, and that’s a message that’s about as strong as any brand can hope to portray.

Think Universally to Market Globally

Once you’ve uncovered this universal truth and made it a part of your foundational branding strategy, the global marketing process should come naturally.

If you can figure out how your brand connects to a human experience we all share, you don’t need a brand new marketing strategy for each country or region you expand to — you just need to pay attention to how that truth should be expressed in light of different cultural norms.

The key to global marketing is not to make isolated, regional brands work for a global market but to create a universally compelling brand that resonates with markets all over the world.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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Taking Your Packaged Goods East: How to Achieve Success in the Chinese Market

With the ever-shifting marketplace of consumer packaged goods, more and more brands are looking to take their products to a different market on the east side. And no, we don’t just mean on the east side of town but the Eastern hemisphere — namely China. There is a booming market for strategically designed packaged goods across a variety of industries, mainly food and beverage, household goods, and of course beauty products.

In order to be successful overseas, it is important to know the key drivers of purchase intent for Chinese consumers — what they are looking for in their packaging, and inversely, what would make them walk away from your product on shelf.

How and Why the Chinese Shop

The first step in understanding how to design or market your product and brand to succeed in China is to understand their consumption habits. One of the key purchase drivers for the Chinese consumer is social recognition. They shop to be seen more than they shop for necessity. Given this fact, a brand’s ability to be connected and shared on WeChat (which is the Chinese’s version of Facebook but with a lot more features) is paramount to success on and off shelf. Because they are shopping for what will look ‘coolest’ to their friends, the Chinese have become extremely emotional shoppers, like Americans but even more so. Therefore any sort of marketing campaign that leans heavily on occasional uses (like Dove’s campaign targeting Chinese consumers that played on the concept of chocolate indulgence) has the potential to be very successful in this arena.

Another factor to keep in mind is that foreign brands are regarded as premium goods in China. The unique look of American package designs automatically signals quality without having to modify many more elements than language. Take this Nabisco packaging for example. Its simplicity and bright, prominent colors are foreign to those familiar with traditionally cluttered snack packaging that is more common from Chinese-owned brands (on the right). Therefore, without too much change to their existing design language, American brands already have a leg up on the local competition.

Because of this, American brands should absolutely market to a younger generation. According to a McKinsey & Company article, those born before 1985 in China mainly used the Internet for work. Those born after 1985, referred to as the Generation-2 (G2) consumer, are the first real generation to use the Internet for every aspect of their lives, and do so for everything they purchase.

Cultural Considerations in Symbols and Color

Since we just learned that when taking an existing brand overseas, the main element you need to focus on is the language, it is important to mention that this process involves more than just using a translator to change it from English to Mandarin. Symbols, words, and numbers have different connotations in Western vs. Eastern culture. For instance, in the Chinese language, the verbal English of the numerical “eight” sounds very similar to the word meaning “make a fortune.” As a result, Chinese people often try to make connections with the number eight whereas, in western cultures, the number seven is viewed as a symbol for good luck.

Color is another interesting factor to keep in mind since color theory and meaning are very different between American and Chinese cultures. For instance, the color red in Western culture produces a viscerally negative emotional reaction. However in Asian cultures, red symbolizes luck, joy, and happiness. The color white also presents an interesting split in meaning. In the US white is often a color used to symbolize newness, cleanliness, and happiness whereas, in China, white is the color most often worn at funerals and is a symbol of death and mourning.

Overall Packaging Considerations

A dichotomy exists within the Chinese consumer where they want their packages to be bespoke and unique in order for them to stand out in the crowd, but packaging must not be wasteful in their form factor. Starting with the first aspect of this separation, studies have shown that younger shoppers are more often shopping the periphery of Chinese stores. Mintel noted how the use of transparent materials, contemporary design, recyclability, or unique shapes can help draw in younger consumers to the store center. In general, packages with more puzzling form factors or multiple elements that make “unboxing” a longer and more exciting experience are highly valued.

Despite this desire though, China was the first country to pass an ‘Excessive Packaging Law’ in 2011 that prohibited companies from using environmentally dangerous and excessive retail packaging elements. The key rules put in place from this law are:

  • Packaging layers are limited to three.
  • The permitted headspace (void-space) volume is restricted.
  • A maximum ratio is specified between the cost of the packaging and the retail product price.

Therefore, the challenge for American brands is to do more with less in both form factor and differentiation.

Overall, whether your brand’s first application will be viewed in the Chinese market or you are a traditional American brand that is toying with the idea of bringing your product overseas, there are many factors to keep in mind. Social engagement, emotional ties, cross-cultural symbols, proper color use, and unique but not excessive packaging forms are all very important to make that transition a successful one.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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Brand Strategy Checklist 2: Mental Strength for Purpose-driven Brands

In segment one of our brand strategy checklist, we explored the external forces shaping your brand. In part two, we examine the areas of your brand strategy driven by the psychology of your management team.

It has been said that the success, challenges, and struggles of any business are the direct result of the psychology of the leadership. This is where brand strategy expands the domain of marketing. It’s where the perception of marketing changes. It goes from being viewed as a mechanism for the organization to always be reaching outside itself for answers and ultimately customers and sales to begin to influence organizational development at the roots of the business. We believe this is one of the most overlooked areas of brand strategy.

In order for brand strategy to become a powerful driving force for your organization, you need to get out of your own head. This means that you and your team need language to describe the real and (hopefully) dramatic differences between your brand and your competitive set. Then, it is up to leadership to understand and evangelize the way your organization’s self-talk, behavior, and vocabulary shapes your employees’ and customers’ experiences.

We will look at:

  • The 12 questions you need to ask yourself to build a mentally strong, purpose-driven brand.
  • How and why to conduct a cultural assessment.
  • The importance of brand positioning.
  • Tips and tricks on how to meaningfully separate yourself from the competition.
  • How each of these components affects your brand’s known and unknown gaps.

Cultural Assessment

What is it?
A cultural assessment is a look at the driving forces within the company to understand historical preferences, passions and quirks, social, economic and marketplace bias, strategic assumptions, and marketplace performance.

The “Retail Voodoo Way:”
We believe that the fish stinks from the head down. If there is a cultural problem, it’s almost certain to be a leadership problem. We conduct a cultural assessment as part of a key stakeholder survey. One of the outcomes is overall company appetite for change.

What you can do with it:
Once you understand your brand’s strengths and weaknesses, you can only get so far without C-level commitment and permission to affect change.

Questions to ask:
1. How is the psychology of your leadership team impacting your brand?
2. If there was evidence to suggest a change would be better for the growth of the organization, what would help you to feel safe about making a change?
3. What will happen to your brand, products, and people if you continue to do the same things you have been doing?


What is it?
Onlyness is the thing that only your brand brings to the world. This idea comes from Marty Neumeier’s book Zag: The Number-one Strategy of High-performance Brands. In the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, Al Ries and Jack Trout also circle around the idea of onlyness with what they call, “The Law of Focus.”

The “Retail Voodoo Way:”
We believe in getting as specific as possible, so your brand is either number one or number two in its category. If you can’t be number one or number two, then you need a new category. We mix the what you make or do with your how and why in order to define your brand in people’s minds. This process can give the perception that becoming a brand with an onlyness requires the sacrifice of opportunity in the market. However, what we see with great frequency is that true onlyness empowers leadership to start new ventures and stop others that no longer make sense in the light of an articulated brand strategy.

What you can do with it:
Onlyness is a powerful confidence booster for your sales team. Spoken with credibility (and believed by the speaker), an onlyness will up your sales game and your marketing strategy.

Questions to ask:
1. Who else in your category could currently claim your onlyness?
2. What should your brand start or stop making or doing in order make your onlyness true?
3. How many subcategories or distinctions does it take to get your brand to become a category of one?

Positioning Statement

What is it?
It’s a clear statement of your brand’s market position in relation to the categories you play in and the competition. Positioning frequently starts with a product (such as a piece of merchandise, a service, a company, an institution or person). Given this, one might think “we make a better cup of coffee” is a fine position, but that is actually twentieth-century advertising thinking at its worst. It is a common mistake.

The “Retail Voodoo Way:”
Positioning is really about your brand’s promise becoming secured in the mind of your audience. This requires us to stop looking at the competitive set thinking that we are better. Superlatives such as “better” and “best” focus on subjective comparison. In order to find a hole or white space in the marketplace that can be leveraged to secure your brand in the mind of your audience, we don’t need to create something entirely new. Instead, we need a reality check. Once we fully see what already exists in the marketplace, we work to rewire the perception to focus on how the audience perceives the situation and how we help them.

What you can do with it:
A positioning statement helps retail buyers and your target audiences understand how you are different and why they should care or think about your brand at all.

Questions to ask:
1. Can your sales and marketing teams explain your positioning statement?
2. Who else in your category could claim similar positioning of your offering?
3. Do you understand the why behind your differences and similarities?

Gap Analysis

What is it?
A gap analysis involves the comparison of actual performance with potential or desired performance.

The “Retail Voodoo Way:”
We focus our gap analysis on systems and leadership required to empower the organization to bring its new brand strategy fully to life. We look at performance and benchmark it against the new strategy’s potential through the lens of culture, daily behaviors, and technological know-how. The goal: unearth a prescription which emphasizes action, process improvements, product optimization, portfolio alignment, and personnel.

What you can do with it:
With a brand strategy-driven gap analysis in place, your brand’s leadership can establish an easy-to-use road map and follow it across a multi-year growth plan.

Questions to ask:
1. Why is your brand no longer getting the traction you once enjoyed in the marketplace?
2. What milestones, events, or marketplace shifts have occurred in the past two years?
3. Are you struggling with people, places, processes, and/or products in our brand?

In the third and final installment of our brand strategy checklist, we will discuss the areas that affect the soul of your brand. If you missed part one, we discuss the external physical forces that influence your brand, so be sure to check that out as well.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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Three Ways to Honor Your Brand’s Heritage While Looking to the Future

In a world where Amazon-Whole Foods and Apple are now the old-guard brands, how can your brand’s past become an asset that connects with employees and customers living a modern life?

Heritage brands today are losing relevance as newer, more transparent, baggage-less brands capture the modern consumer’s imagination. These new options can feel more authentic than those who could claim category original.

In many cases, a company’s history powerfully shapes the way its leadership thinks about vision, strategy, and brand. Heritage is a strength unless decisions made in the past put constraints on the solutions of the future.

When we started our work with Derma E, they were a skin care expert with a 30-year-long reputation as one of the original players in the natural channel, yet they struggled to connect with a younger audience. Despite their strong, ethical point-of-view, their old-school, clinical look felt outdated. We helped them reposition their brand so that once those messages were translated into package design, contemporary consumers could confidently display their products on the bathroom sink.

Real purpose will never go out of style, especially in today’s world. Beyond product and brand positioning, here are three ways to honor your brand’s past while leaning into a fast-paced future.

1. Kill the sacred cows with a pen.

If your brand has any history at all, there is room for your heritage to create a set of unspoken and untouchable rules. Every organization has some version of “we’ve always done it this way” echoing throughout their leadership and employees.

I believe this is because most brands see their heritage as a set of laws, rather than a permission slip to innovation. Anything not written down can be misinterpreted. Innovation begins when you write down all of your brand’s oral history and then edit it mercilessly.

2. Link your brand’s values to your culture.

Brand values are the beliefs defined by what Simon Sinek calls your “why.” When clarified, written down, and shared as part of the culture, brand values guide behavior, actions, and communication throughout your organization and externally to the public.

Your company’s culture and core values are the bedrock of innovation, communication, and effective teams. Today, the most successful companies are the ones that don’t just have great products but are also deeply focused on culture.

In order to win in the market, you need to win in the workplace first. REI is a great example of a heritage brand that continues to enjoy marketplace relevance and an avid fan-base driven by happy, engaged employees who understand how to share the company’s values with consumers.

REI is a brand with a true heritage that honors the past and looks to the future. They have created an internal culture that encourages employees and customers to “be one of us” and go deep. It is personal enough so that people want to share the story, contribute to helping make it real, and express it as one-of-a-kind heritage brand living in the present.

3. Care about human needs more than market opportunity.

In other words: Love your people as you love yourself. REI’s #OptOutside campaign is a great example of a brand using company values to push against the grain of what has become of our annual Thanksgiving holiday. By keeping their doors closed on Black Friday, they have taken a stand for their employees, promoted their values, and accomplished more sales than many of the retailers who opened at 4 a.m. and worked their people into the ground on day one of the holiday season.

For Derma E, once they embraced the realities of a changing consumer and acknowledged that what worked 30 years ago might not be as effective anymore, they saw dramatic results. Their leadership began thinking like their target audience and found a way to share their brand’s values and preserve the history while simultaneously evolving. Streamlining their offering, telling their story, and repositioning their focus to ethical beauty resulted in 45 percent growth in just 12 months. What was once seen as an outdated, medicinal brand now stands worthy of sitting on the vanity countertop of a contemporary woman.

As a business with heritage, you have an opportunity to turn your origin story into a powerful differentiator. As you go, remember that people seek out brands with authentic stories and a purpose beyond the bottom line. The strongest version of your brand story includes the past, present, and future of your how, what, and why.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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How Brands Use Rituals to Meaningfully Engage Their Customers

If your target audience lacks engagement or community, ritual can answer that need by fulfilling your customers’ natural desire for routine and belonging. Embracing this type of behavior modification will allow you to not only capture their attention but retain it as well.

Ritual comes from an inherent human desire; we’re creatures of habit. We naturally look to routines for stability and simplicity. From an anthropological perspective, rituals are an integral part of the human species. While habits and routines are typically naturally-derived over time, rituals follow patterns of behavior developed by an external source (like a brand or an organization).

Primitive images of sacred, mystical, or religious rituals often come to mind when thinking about this concept. But more “modern” rituals can be just as powerful. Organizations use ritual to build loyalty, conjure a perception of exclusivity or secrecy, and naturally intertwine with the everyday behavior of its members. Rituals are reassuring, giving us a sense of security and belonging.

Brands tap into the power of ritual by leveraging simple behaviors they recognize in their customers. Involving customers physically in the brand experience helps build loyalty.

While marketers may salivate at the thought of a ritual that cements the brand into the cultural zeitgeist, know that it’s really hard to pull off. Nabisco didn’t have Instagram to show them that people were unscrewing and dunking Oreos; the ritual developed organically among the audience over time. We have faster, deeper-reaching tools into the psychology of our consumers, so why is it harder than ever to leverage these rituals?

If you’re eager to identify and elevate a ritual among your brand’s devotees, use our 20 questions to guide you on where to look for them and how to capitalize on them. To discover those 20 questions, please complete the short form below:

Which Brands Do Ritual Well

The following brands harness ritual in powerful and memorable ways that can be adapted to increase loyalty and engagement for your brand.


Corona and lime is a terrific example of how a brand can use ritual to elicit emotion. The smell of the lime evokes the tropical essence of the beach, reminding consumers to kick back and relax. Even the action of pushing that thin green lime into the golden yellow liquid screams sunshine.

This ritual transcends time, language, and culture. Without speaking a word, consumers acknowledge the “right” way to drink a Corona. This pseudo mutual agreement makes us all feel like “insiders.”


Think about it – you have a very particular way you eat a Kit-Kat bar. Think about it: You have a very particular way you eat a Kit-Kat bar. Why? Why do we feel so strongly about the correct or incorrect way to eat one of these candy bars? The brand has created a sacred consumption ritual reinforced by catchy ad jingles and clever marketing. They leveraged a simple, inherent behavior they recognized in their customers and made it into a memorable ritual known by all. It’s woven into the collective consciousness of the world — something few brands can lay claim to.


This brand utilizes emotional storytelling as well. Their brand ritual of twisting the top and dipping the cookie into milk could be an individual ritual, but they have shifted the narrative to make the consumption experience an event in itself. Their advertising shows dessert time as a time to connect with family and the ritual experience as a bonding moment between individuals.

It also leans into consumption behavior that already exists. Marketers coined the “twist, lick, dunk,” but customers were already doing this before the ads came on television. The brand harnessed the power of a pre-existing behavior and ritualized it — powerfully bridging the connection between the consumption experience and the brand itself.


Starbucks is the ultimate example of brand ritual playing into human nature. The brand is rooted in emotion and behavior. The brand took the European ritual of drinking coffee and “Americanized” it. Until the conception of the “Third Place,” coffee was always an individual experience. The goal of the “Third Place” was to give consumers somewhere to go besides work and home. The brand created a place for people to gather, chat, read, listen to music, study, and oh, by the way, drink coffee. This collective ritual changed the game.

Not only did Starbucks harness the social routine of the “Third Place,” they also tapped into our desire for individualized rituals. Their drink customization system made customers feel important and in control. In personalizing their experience, they felt involved in the brand in a new way.

All in all, brands embrace human natures and behaviors — giving them purpose and meaning through ritual. Enhancing the brand experience through ritual involves customers, weaves the brand naturally into their lives, and builds an emotional connection.

In order to create a successful brand ritual, you must:

  1. Modify or take advantage of an existing behavior.
  2. Tell a story to elicit emotional connections.
  3. Physically involve the customer through action, smell, movement, etc.
  4. Personalize the experience.
  5. Keep it simple and easy to replicate.
  6. Be natural; don’t force it.

Adapt these lessons for your brand to powerfully engage your audience and foster loyal relationships.

And if you’re interested in a deeper dive into how you can identify and leverage consumer rituals around your brand, access our 20 Questions: Brands & Rituals worksheet.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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Brand Strategy Checklist 1: Strengthen Your Brand’s Body

We all agree that brand strategy is vital to your business. Profit, loss, fame, or ruin all hang in the balance. Since getting it right is critical and fortune favors the well-prepared, Retail Voodoo created our own brand strategy checklist toolkit to drive all client engagements.

Why is Retail Voodoo’s brand strategy checklist in three parts?

Over the years, we’ve helped hundreds of clients evolve their businesses through brand strategy. So, we’ve learned a few things about how to make it stick. And we believe the journey of developing a comprehensive brand strategy is best broken down into three realms:

  1. The physical (external forces) that influence your brand.
  2. The mental (the psychology) of the organization.
  3. And the soul (the spirit) of the brand.

Just like people, when your organization’s brand strategy has clarity and alignment in these three realms, the outcome is strength and confidence, powerfully focused on the future. In this first installment of our brand strategy toolkit, we explore the physical, external forces that influence the mechanics of your brand. The external forces or physical aspect of brand strategy will help us see the way toward meaningful and long-lasting differentiation.

For brand strategy to be successful and lucrative, your team not only needs to understand but collectively buy-in to the ways in which the outside world shapes your brand’s reality. Let’s look at the difference between a competitive audit and competitive advantage with the goal of using both to put shape to audience mapping through the lens of trend analysis.

Competitive Audit

What is it? 
The basic version is a review of all the competing brands in your space and how they communicate. But this is just the beginning. A meaningful competitive audit also looks at offerings, events, and circumstances competing for your audience’s attention and dollars.

The “Retail Voodoo Way:”
We assess all of your competitors with this checklist. We study their social media streams, public relations, consumer-facing communication, in-store, and online experience. We then benchmark your brand against that information.

What you can do with it:
When armed with a robust competitive audit, your company’ has the power to change from emotion-based marketing to differentiation based communication. It also lays the foundation for seeing innovation from a strategic perspective rather than merely opportunistic.

Questions to ask:
1. Do we know our real competition?
2. What adjacent categories are consumers looking at when considering our brand?
3. What other businesses and products might we make if we had clarity?

Core Audience Map

What is it?
A comprehensive profile of who currently purchases your brand.

The “Retail Voodoo Way:”
A meaningful core audience map goes beyond demographics by placing the people currently buying your brand into an audience-to-be universe. We use primary research to map this and find out who is different and where things overlap.

What you can do with it:
A research-driven core audience map gives a company new power. Not only does this allow for easier persona creation in sales and marketing, but helps leadership and product development get into new businesses and get out of others.

Questions to ask:
1. What primary research are you using to build your current audience map?
2. Who else in your category shares the same audience?
3. Who would you include in an audience-to-be map?

Competitive Advantage

What is it?
Admit it, you think this one is obvious. But remember, there are 300 choices of toothpaste. But competitive advantage isn’t simply what you make, who you are, and how good you are at the 4 P’s of marketing (product, price, place, promotion). In our world, it’s much more.

The “Retail Voodoo Way:”
We look at competitive advantage as a three-legged stool. First, we determine what your company does or makes better than anyone else. Then we look at whether you have proprietary ingredients in your matrix, or not. Finally, we look at who is disrupting you – along with how and why. And when appropriate, we look at which competitors and adjacent categories your brand can disrupt.

What you can do with it: 
Once your team understands your distinct and ownable differences in the competitive landscape, your brand has a chance to move from competing on price and being in the right place to being sought out and commanding a premium at the same time.

Questions to ask:
1. What market conditions exist to give us clear competitive advantage?
2. How and why are we different than others with similar offerings?
3. What needs to change internally or externally for our brand to have a stronger advantage?

Trend Analysis

What is it? 
Trend analysis for branding is different than the financial world. In branding, history does not necessarily repeat itself. In brand strategy, trends are social proof.

The “Retail Voodoo Way:”
Since brands and branding run on the backbone of modern culture, it is imperative to anyone crafting a brand strategy to have insight into what’s coming next. But that takes more than following the Kardashians on Instagram. We believe data, shopper insights, and emerging cultural preferences are the strongest predictors of trends that brands can leverage.

What you can do with it: 
A validated trend report provides management with confidence to move boldly toward a new future, create new offerings, and stop producing items that no longer fit the cultural norm.

Questions to ask:
1. How do our products and services fit into modern society?
2. What social proof do we use when evaluating our innovation pipeline?
3. How might our business change and grow by paying attention to trends as part of strategy?

In our next installment of our brand strategy checklist, we will focus on the psychological aspects that shape your brand.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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How to Use Form Factor to Powerfully Transform Your Brand and Disrupt Your Industry

Form factor can either be part of your brand’s selling mechanism or integral to the functionality of the products. In either case, it dramatically impacts how customers are attracted to and interact with your brand.

We can all recognize Coca-Cola’s signature glass bottle silhouette anywhere and can spot a Pringles can from a mile away. Coca-Cola’s glass bottle was created to sell. They wanted to disrupt on-shelf and throw off copycats. The company wanted to be so memorable, someone could feel it in the dark and instantly recognize the brand. The classic Pringles can, on the other hand, was born out of necessity. They wanted a resealable chip vessel to keep their product fresh and a cylindrical, structured shape so their chips would remain aligned and avoid being crushed.

Strategy-driven form factor does not always look this dramatic. Small, subtle changes can influence consumers on a large scale and revolutionize your brand or even your industry. The following examples of how brand strategy can translate into form factor show both sides of this.

Form Follows Function, Right?

Hilary’s Eat Well veggie burgers had a form factor problem the aisle audit revealed during our brand strategy work. Hilary’s veggie burgers were packaged in two-pack, freezer safe pouches. Once the customer purchased a package, the remaining pouches on the shelf fell over (often face-down). This posed a very large problem in terms of visibility on-shelf .

And while the company was aware of this issue, their previous attempts to remedy the situation were engineered too costly and received push-back from Whole Foods and other natural grocers.

The outcomes and goals identified during brand strategy drove the design of the simple recyclable box. This solution improved sustainability (after all, it is a vegan brand), shopability, flavor appeal, and provided room to tell the more compelling story of the brand’s true point of differentiation. The packaging educated customers about the product being convenient culinary and made free-from common food allergens. Who knew a cute little chipboard box could do all that?

Form Informs a New Way to Effectively Reach Your Target Audience

Reaching new audiences is all about understanding how consumers interact with your product. DRY wanted to be known as the go-to sparkling beverage for tastemakers but struggled to gain traction with key bartenders and chefs. This wasn’t because these culinary masters didn’t like the product or refused to use it, no. It was because of the limiting form factor. The small, non-re-sealable 12-ounce bottles made it difficult to work within a hospitality setting. To combat this, DRY created a larger resealable bottle.

Not only did DRY’s new form take off in the hospitality industry, but major retailers took notice as well. Now consumers who wanted larger bottles for parties or entertaining could purchase a re-sealable bottle as well. By changing the form factor, DRY reached new, powerful audiences and provided them with new ways to consume their product.

Form Informs Emotional Connections

Form factor can also be effective in communicating practical uses of products through storytelling. For example, Ruffwear’s mission was to create a deeper bond between people who love the outdoors and their dogs – allowing their companion to accompany them on their epic outdoor adventures. They made mountaineer-quality gear for dogs, but nobody knew this because they cost-engineered their packaging to be as thin and small as possible. It didn’t tell the story. Our brand strategy pulled at the powerful bond between owner and pet. Through emotion-driven customer education on the product attributes, we told their story.

Form Informs the Revolution of Your Industry

The wine industry notoriously feels stuffy – embracing exclusivity and the culinary elite. The beer industry’s reputation, on the other hand, feels more inviting and approachable. A large part of this is form factor of the two beverages. Canned beer is portable and seen as less sophisticated. Wine is known for being bottled and corked; saved for fancy glasses and sit-down dinners.

Underwood effectively flipped this norm on its head. The brand saw the craft beer industry beginning to infiltrate wine’s territory by becoming more of a gourmet, culinary experience – even paired with food on occasion. As the craft beer industry threatened to steal market share, Underwood decided to steal it back by canning their wine – subsequently making it approachable, portable, and unstuffy. Younger audiences can now have quick, adventurous experiences that involve wine without the barriers typically preventing them from consuming wine conveniently. Underwood used form factor to completely upend the industry.

Califia revolutionized their industry as well through form factor. Any shopper can recognize their signature bottle shape with just a quick glance. Their unique, elegant plastic bottle shape disrupted the milk category because the product no longer lived in just the paper carton anymore. The brand wanted to move into the natural, organic, alternative milk category, so their form factor emulated characteristics that would communicate those qualities and shared values to customers. The graceful and iconic shape feels reminiscent of glass milk bottles – evoking a feeling of farm-to-table and reminding customers of the benefit of organic farming. The brand elicits this emotion right from the aisle. Now, customers can find everything Califia (from cold brew to almond milk to juice) in the same form – building a brand connection between completely different areas of the grocery store.

We often get so caught up thinking about graphic design or digital experiences that we forget about the engineering of products and the vessels they live in. Form factor plays just as large of a role – if not more – in influencing consumer’s purchase decisions. It provides the canvas for storytelling and the correct mechanics to optimize performance. Shape, structure, and function can revolutionize an entire brand and even an entire industry.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

Connect with David